04.22.14 9:45 AM ET
How Chicago Became ‘Chiraq’
Editor’s Note: Over the July 4 weekend, 82 people were shot and 14 of them killed in Chicago. It’s not the first time a holiday was marred by gun violence. Over Easter, 45 people were shot in the city that's come to be known as “Chiraq.”
President Obama may have gotten our troops out of Iraq, but the gunfire in his hometown of Chicago is still earning it a searing nickname coined by young people who live there.
On Easter weekend, 45 people were shot in the city, six of them children.
Five youngsters under the age of 15—four girls and a boy—were shot in a playground where they had gone after Easter services at a nearby church.
Witnesses agree that a car pulled up and one of the occupants asked the youngsters if they were in a gang. There is some dispute about whether the youngsters even got a chance to say no before the people in the car started shooting.
The most seriously wounded, 11-year-old Tymisha Washington, was listed in critical condition with multiple gunshot wounds. She is expected to survive.
“Prayers Going Up Blessings Coming Down,” read a posting on her aunt’s Facebook page.
A Facebook argument had apparently sparked a completely unrelated shooting at the start of the weekend. Best friends Jordan Means, 16, and Anthony Bankhead, 18, got into the online spat with a man in his 30s. The man is said to have followed his final post by appearing in the flesh and shooting the two teens to death.
Two other men were fatally shot later in the weekend as they sat in a car that was also occupied by two kids, ages 3 and 7. The children were physically unharmed but no doubt will join those who are as mentally scarred by living in Chicago as were some combat veterans who returned from the war in Iraq.
And this bloody Easter weekend was preceded by a weekend in which 37 people were shot, four of them fatally. FBI Director James Comey happened to be in Chicago the following Monday, and he ascribed much of the violence to the gang culture so deeply ingrained in the city. But Comey had little to say about what Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy recognizes as the core problem.
“Until we do something about guns, don’t expect things to change overnight,” McCarthy said at a press conference that same day.
McCarthy noted that Chicago cops have seized 1,500 illegal guns so far this year, but the people caught with the weapons are all too often back on the street all too soon.
“It’s like running on a hamster wheel,” McCarthy said of the effort to grapple with the problem. “We’re drinking from a fire hose, seizing these guns, and people are back out on the street. They’re not learning that carrying a firearm is going to have a serious impact on their lives.”
McCarthy invoked the memory of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old who was killed by a stray round in 2013, just days after performing at Obama’s second inauguration. McCarthy noted that her suspected killer had been at liberty despite having been convicted of illegal gun possession just two months before.
“If he’s not out on the street, Hadiya Pendleton is out there being an honor student and continuing on with her life,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy emphasized that the Chicago Police Department is pursuing a wide range of strategies to stem the violence, much of which is gang-related. And the murder rate is actually down this year. But even the smartest policing by the most dedicated cops can only do so much in the absence of effective gun laws.
“If you don’t go to jail for gun possession, you continue to carry guns,” McCarthy said. “You continue to carry guns, and people get shot.”
Other people who have gotten shot in Chicago in recent days include 17-year-old Ronald Hayes, who was expected to be the first in his family to graduate from high school and who had promised to take his mother to the prom because she never had the opportunity to attend one. He was gunned down in February as he shoveled snow outside a neighbor’s home.
There was also 17-year-old Gakirah Barnes. Her Twitter moniker was @tyquannassassin, apparently in honor of a 13-year-old relative named Tyquann Tyler who was killed by a stray bullet in 2012. Barnes reportedly was allied with the rapper Lil Jay and the late rapper Lil JoJo, who was killed in 2012 by a not at all stray round after releasing a video dissing Chief Keef, the rapper. Keef’s 30-year-old cousin Mario “BigGlo” Hess was shot to death on April 9. Barnes tweeted a reference to a Notorious B.I.G. lyric the next day.
“u Nobody until Somebody kill u u dats jst real Shyt.”
A friend quickly responded.
“More bodies BITCH This Chiraq.”
The following afternoon, Barnes was herself shot to death, hit as many as nine times. She was to be buried near her father, who reportedly was shot to death on an Easter 16 years and thousands of murders ago.
Her death was followed by the April 15 shooting of Lil Jojo’s 16-year-old cousin Keno Blass. Keef’s cousin was buried on Friday, with the star rapper serving as a pallbearer.
But if a rap war of sorts is behind some of the recent killings and gang rivalries are behind many more and a Facebook spat led to two of the murders, the common denominator in all the shootings is guns.
The war that now demands the president’s attention is the one in Chiraq.